It takes a lot of work and commitment to grow a great team and a great company culture. It doesn’t take much to topple it. Just one toxic employee can have a cascading effect on the camaraderie and goodwill felt within your company. What you have spent months, years even, developing, can be undone in a matter of weeks.

So, are toxic employees easy to spot? Not always. Can you spot them? Yes. How? Read on to find out how to spot toxic employees and take heart in our great troubleshooting tips to keep your fabulous culture and team on track.

Spotting toxic employees

Uncovering toxic employees can be difficult. Toxic employees and their behaviors aren’t often shared with leadership. Even worse, leaders or managers are the source of toxicity, in which case there’s even less chance of someone reporting it.

Staff reviews are one opportunity for employees to report toxic behavior, but as they tend to be an annual event, it’s a long time to wait for problems to be unearthed.

The key to spotting toxic employees is in open communication. Commit to regular reviews, peer reviews (including staff providing feedback on managers), ongoing feedback and surveys. Also, screen new job candidates for toxic behavior to sift out potentially toxic personalities.

Provide education and coaching about toxic behaviors and use behavioral assessments that require written feedback and a training plan. Personal development plans are a great idea.

For example, poor company culture is costing the UK economy £23.6 billion per year. Early intervention is critical, but prevention is the best strategy.

How to spot toxic employees before you hire

It’s not easy to spot toxic personalities during the interview process but there are warning signs you can pick up on. Generally, candidates will be on their best behavior at an interview, but there are questions you can ask to weed out the toxic ones.

Types of toxic employees

Toxic employees aren’t always easy to spot and behaviors leaning towards toxic can easily be hidden. In most cases the behavior develops insidiously and goes unnoticed until it suddenly reaches a crescendo. Before an employee poisons your culture, it’s good to have an understanding of the type of characters to watch out for.

The gossip

A chatty employee can be a lively and valuable team member. But, when chit-chat turns to gossip, the office banter can easily turn sour. Catty gossip is destructive and will affect morale, performance and productivity.

The bully

No one likes a bully. Employees will suffer, even if they aren’t the person in the direct firing line. Bullying behavior is negative, frustrating, humiliating, hurtful and disruptive. The typical response in the workplace to bullying behavior is passivity, until the employee has had enough and hands in their notice.

The slacker

This type of employee is the office’s biggest avoider of anything work related. They are bad timekeepers, take excessive time off sick, waste time online, miss deadlines and are a drain on the team.

The know-it-all

The know-it-all is an egomaniac. These are narcissistic types who believe they are the most talented in the team and that only their way is the right way. They ignore advice and are the opposite of team players.

The martyr

The martyr is similar to the know-it-all, but just doesn’t boast so much about achievements. Quietly beavering away, they build resentment about always picking up the pieces. They make team members feel they aren’t good enough and don’t allow others to take responsibility in their own way. While you may be inclined to feel grateful for your martyr, this isn’t a healthy set up.

The sociopath

Bullies are also a type of sociopath, but here we refer to those who play mind games. The sociopath can be charming, but they are also irrational. They thrive on destruction and feed off manipulation. They act in a passive-aggressive way. Though they can be overly kind, they don’t have a conscience.

The sociopathic employee is manipulative and will blatantly lie. Employees with sociopathic tendencies aren’t physically dangerous, but they are dangerous to your business in more ways than one.

The emotional mess

When an employee continually shares their emotional baggage, it is a drain on the rest of the team.

How to turn your toxic employee around

Firing a toxic employee isn’t always easy or the right thing to do. Except in extreme cases, it is entirely possible to get rid of toxic behavior and keep the person in question. Many people aren’t aware of their behavior and with a sensitive approach, certain behaviors can be addressed and turned around.

Start by having a personal discussion with the person. Discuss the behavior that is causing the problem and try to understand why they are behaving in such a way. See if you can find a solution you both agree to.

Bullies may be fearful about their own incompetence, significance or likeability. Start with a tough talk about zero tolerance for bullying. Also, offer training and support. Instigate open discussions in the team about respect for one another. You need to motivate the bully to behave differently. Be clear about expected behavioral changes.

Learn what makes your toxic employee tick and you’ll have more chance of taking control of the situation.

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Annie Button
Annie Button is a Portsmouth based writer and recent English Literature graduate. Annie has written for various online and print publications and specializes in business and career development. Follow @anniebutton1994 on Twitter.

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